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Date of Issue: May 03, 2007

Beach walkers ready for turtle patrols, season starts May 1

Enlisting for the turtle season
Volunteers register to walk a section of beach during an Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch meeting April 26 at Holmes Beach City Hall. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteer Lily Slobatec, 7, talks with Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Bill Shearon during the orientation meeting for volunteers at Holmes Beach City Hall April 26.

Some new recruits and many veterans enlisted on April 26 in a campaign to patrol the Island's beaches.

It's a seasonal tour of duty - through the spring and summer -to ensure the safe arrival and departure of mother sea turtles and their hatchlings.

"Our first walk day is May 1," Suzi Fox, the executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, said during an orientation meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall.

Fox, who operates the program under a permit from the state, gave volunteers their walking orders - look for signs of turtles crawling and nesting, of hatchlings making their way back to the water, of predators stalking a turtle or nest, of humans interfering with nesting.

"We do this because we love it," Fox told the 100 people assembled. "You guys are very, very important and I thank you for doing this."

Like any enlistees, they committed to a job - each member of the patrol volunteering to walk a one-mile stretch of beach one day a week through the season.

The veterans received their uniforms - white T-shirts with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch on the back. The new recruits will receive their shirts three weeks into the season.

Three such recruits came to the orientation meeting from "out east" in Manatee County.  Charlotte Slotabec and her daughters Lily, 7, and Emma, 9, said they won't mind the weekly early morning drive to the beach.

"We pretty much get up at 6 anyway to take the bus to school," said Emma. "I'm looking forward to it."

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," said Lily, who is learning about sea turtles in school and is anxious to test her classroom knowledge in the field.

"You can tell which kind of turtle laid the egg from the tracks," she said.

"And if eggs are laid in cold temperatures they are boys and warm they are girls," she added.

"We thought it would be fun to do," their mother said. "We hope to find nests and see hatchlings and have a good time as a family."

The Slotabecs, during the meeting, watched a slide presentation on their duties as walkers.

Fox stressed that they are data collectors and their priority on their walks is to search the beach for signs of turtles.

"You guys are collecting data that is going to be used for many, many things," Fox said, adding that most of the female turtles who nest on the Island are loggerheads, but that volunteers may see signs of others.

The walkers received instructions to patrol the beaches with the arrival of daylight and to call in a report by 7:30 a.m.

A delay in the report, Fox said, could delay other operations, such as raking the beach. "They can't do anything until we call in that data," she told the crowd.

Fox emphasized that the walkers are not code enforcement officers but they can notify the cities when they see a violation of nesting turtle regulations, such as lights on at night and tents and chairs left on the beach over night.

Fox also introduced Bill Shearon, the Bradenton Beach city commissioner serving as a liaison to AMITW. She said Shearon would help with code enforcement complaints in Bradenton Beach, where, in the past, there's been trouble with night lights.

Shearon said Bradenton Beach plays a vital role in the program. "Over one-third of Bradenton Beach is waterline," he said, adding that his figure includes the bay side.

The volunteers left the meeting with state guidelines for collecting turtle data, instructions on when and how to call in their reports, a DVD on nesting sea turtles and flags to mark turtle tracks and nests.

They also mingled, sharing the reasons they joined the program and getting to know other walkers.

Fox emphasized, "Introduce yourself. This is a team effort that we do. We want everyone to have a good time. ... The most important thing I want you all to do on that beach is have a good time."

Geri Cannon and Dale Romesburg, both of Holmes Beach, expect to have a good time. They've walked together for the last two years and plan to walk this year.

"We enjoy the cause, the mission," said Romesburg, adding that the walk is a good start on making a fine day.

"It's a lot of excitement when you find something," said an eager Cannon. "It's wonderful."

For more information about AMITW or for questions about possible turtle activity on the beach, call Fox at 778-5638.


Nesting turtle season

  • Sea turtle nesting season is from May through October.
  • It is against the law to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or the nests.
  • Avoid using flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night.
  • Turn off outside patio lights or shield indoor lights from shining on the beach at night. Lights can disturb adults and hatchlings.
  • Avoid disturbing marked nests and remove litter from the beach.
  • When crossing a dune, use designated crossovers and walkways.
  • Do not climb over the dunes or disturb dune vegetation.